Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mercury More Active than Scientists Thought

Source - NASA Science News for April 30, 2009

A NASA spacecraft gliding over the surface of Mercury has revealed that the planet's atmosphere, magnetosphere, and its geological past display greater levels of activity than scientists first suspected.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WFW UW Astronomy Dept. Open House May 2nd

Posted on behalf of the Seattle Astronomical Society:

The University of Washington Astronomy Department is holding it's annual Open House on May 2nd and is inviting the SAS to join in. This is always a fun event and a great way to reach out to new amateur astronomers. In the past we have participated with solar viewing and it has always been popular among attendees. The Open House will be from 4:00 to 6:00 PM at the Astrophysics building. If you can help out please let me know. Information for the Open House can be found at .

Following the Open House, Franke Drake will give a lecture on The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Anyone who has been to one of his lectures knows what a treat we're in for. The lecture will be at Kane Hall from 7:00 to 8:30 PM.

After the lecture we will set up telescopes for public viewing.

New Gamma-Ray Burst Smashes Cosmic Distance Record

Source - NASA Science News for April 28, 2009

A gamma-ray burst detected by NASA's Swift satellite has smashed the previous distance record for the most powerful explosions in the Universe. Researchers are calling it "an incredible find" and a "true blast from the past."


The Science@NASA Podcast feed is available at

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Are We Alone for 04/27/09 - Seth's Garage

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Are We Alone - Seth's Garage
It’s always a surprise to go digging in Seth’s garage – who knows what we’ll find! In this impressive heap of paraphernalia, tucked between boxes of old radio tubes and hydraulic jacks, we stumble upon the secrets to our galaxy’s central black hole… witness the dance of the PhD theses… uncover the genome of milk (while moo-ving boxes) and … hey? Who’s that crunching numbers in the corner? It’s astrophysicist Mario Livio addressing the mathematical mysteries of universe.

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sunset Conjunction Alert, and Unexpected Solar Activity

Source - Space Weather News for April 25, 2009:

SUNSET CONJUNCTION: When the sun goes down on Sunday, April 26th, step outside and look west. An exquisitely-slender crescent Moon is lining up with Mercury and the Pleiades star cluster for a three-way conjunction in the sunset sky. Click here for the full story and a sky map:

UNEXPECTED SOLAR ACTIVITY: The sun produced an unexpected burst of activity on April 23rd when an enormous prominence rose over the northeastern limb and erupted. A coronal mass ejection (CME) billowed away from the blast site, but the billion-ton cloud is not heading toward Earth. Visit for movies of the event.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Weekend Sky Show

Source - NASA Science News for April 24, 2009

On Sunday, April 26th, the crescent Moon, Mercury and the Pleiades star cluster will line up in the western sky for a beautiful sunset conjunction.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

SETI Institute special offer: Confessions of an Alien Hunter

Here is a special offer from the SETI Institute:

The SETI Institute is celebrating Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak's new book Confessions of an Alien Hunter with a great offer - Sign up as a new TeamSETI member, and Seth will personalize and autograph a copy of his book for you for just $15.00!

Seth's book offers an entertaining and expert account of the facts, fantasies, and future of finding intelligence elsewhere in the universe, and how real science differs from the Hollywood view of extraterrestrial life. As noted in the Washington Post's book review, "this book is compelling and thought-provoking." You can listen to Seth discuss the book on this week's Are We Alone? radio show.

And by becoming a TeamSETI member with this offer, you will not only receive a great read, but you will also support the research behind the story - and reap the benefits of joining our TeamSETI family.

We hope you'll choose to take advantage of this special opportunity, and join TeamSETI today!

NASA Puts the Right Stuff into the Right Hands

Source - NASA Science News for April 22, 2009

All research and no application makes data a dull toy. NASA's SPoRT program brings data to life by putting it in the hands of people who can use it best--the National Weather Service forecasters who send us scurrying for cover when severe weather looms.


View the latest updates on NASA's Ares rockets and their role in America's journey to the moon on the America's Rockets podcast, in either HD <> or for mobile devices <>.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lyrid Meteor Shower 2009

Source - Space Weather News for April 21, 2009:

MORNING METEORS: Earth is entering a stream of debris from Comet Thatcher, the source of the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Wednesday, April 22nd, with a display of 10 to 20 meteors per hour over the northern hemisphere. Occasionally, Earth passes through a dense region of the comet's tail and rates surge five- to ten-fold. In 1982, for instance, observers were surprised by an outburst of 90 Lyrids per hour. Because Thatcher's tail has never been mapped in detail, the outbursts are unpredictable and could happen again at any time. The best time to look, no matter where you live, is during the dark hours before dawn on Wednesday morning April 22nd. Visit for full coverage.

LUNAR OCCULTATION OF VENUS: Even if the Lyrids fizzle, there is still something wonderful to see on Wednesday morning, April 22nd. The crescent Moon and Venus are going to have a close encounter of jaw-dropping beauty. Look low and to the east just before sunrise. Observers in western parts of North America will see a lunar occultation: Venus will disappear behind the Moon's limb just after 5 am PDT and reappear again an hour or so later. Details may be found in this Science@NASA story:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are We Alone for 04/20/09 - Reading Life's Tea Leaves

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Are We Alone - Reading Life's Tea Leaves
For nearly four billion years, life has been swimming and shuffling across our planet. But how can we deduce what it was like? You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to track the clues of life that came before – call on an anthropologist or biologist. From fossils to alien radio signals, find out how to interpret the clues that living organisms leave behind, and hear adventure stories in the evolution of life on Earth.

Also, the discovery of a dino-eating crocodile and the tale of scientist/explorer/polymath Idaho Brown.

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Venus Disappears During Meteor Shower

Source - NASA Science News for April 17, 2009

A meteor shower. A crescent Moon. A disappearing planet. These three things will be on display next Wednesday, April 22nd, when the Moon occults Venus during the annual Lyrid meteor shower.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NYT Op-Ed "Boldly Going Nowhere" By Seth Shostak

Many readers of this blog and/or listeners of the Are We Alone podcasts may be interested in this Op-Ed piece "Boldly Going Nowhere" by SETI's own Seth Shostak. Give it a read and feel free to leave your comments here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Surprising Shape of Solar Storms

Source - NASA Science News for April 14, 2009

For the first time, NASA spacecraft have traced the 3D shape of solar storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). It turns out the most ferocious storms resemble something from a French bakery. Read today's story to find out what:

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Radio Storms on Jupiter

Source - Space Weather News for April 13, 2009

RADIO STORMS ON JUPITER: On April 11th, an amateur radio astronomer in New Mexico heard loud pops and crackles coming from the loudspeaker of his shortwave receiver. The sounds resembled terrestrial lightning, but the source was not on Earth. It was a radio storm on Jupiter. You can listen to the sounds on today's edition of .

Astronomers have long known that Jupiter produces strong shortwave radio bursts detectable from Earth; the fact of Jupiter's "radio activity" is not news. However, now may be the best time in decades to listen to the giant planet. The sun is in the pits of a century-level solar minimum. Low solar activity increases the transparency of Earth's atmosphere to shortwave radio waves, allowing signals from Jupiter to more easily and clearly reach the ground. At the same time, terrestrial radio interference subsides (another side-effect of solar minimum), so Jupiter bursts are easier to identify.

2009 is going to be a good year for Jupiter. The planet is moving away from the sun and may now be seen shining brightly in the eastern sky before dawn. Students, teachers and amateur scientists who wish to try listening as well as watching should consider building their own radio telescope. Kits are available from NASA's Radio JOVE program:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Are We Alone for 04/13/09 - Skeptical Sunday: Is Ignorance Bliss?

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Are We Alone - Skeptical Sunday: Is Ignorance Bliss?
Europe is a country. Six justices sit on the Supreme Court. The Vietnamese attacked Pearl Harbor. If ignorance is bliss, this is one happy-go-lucky country. The average American's grasp of history, current events, and geography is so poor, according to one journalist, we've become a nation of dunces, seriously undermining our own future.

Keeping ourselves in the dark.

Find out why "F" stands for American intellect and what's behind the national trend of dumbing down. Also, the story of the brilliant Russian geneticist who paid the ultimate price during Stalin's Terror in the 1930s.

Plus, Brains on Vacation assesses the doomsday threat of the Large Hadron Collider. And, hunting for ghosts in Hollywood.
It's Skeptical Sunday... but don't take our word for it.

Guests: You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Friday, April 10, 2009

NASA Heads up Mt. Everest

Source - NASA Science News for April 10, 2009

NASA researchers are about to climb the slopes of Earth's tallest mountain to test exploration technologies they'll need on the Moon and Mars.


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Thursday, April 09, 2009

NASA Hunts for Remains of an Ancient Planet near Earth

Source - NASA Science News for April 9, 2009

NASA's twin STEREO probes are entering a mysterious region of space to look for remains of an ancient planet which might have orbited the Sun not far from Earth. If they find anything, it could solve a major puzzle--the origin of the Moon.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Beyond Apollo: Moon Tech Takes a Giant Leap

Source - NASA Science News for April 8, 2009

1960s technology worked for the Apollo program, but next-generation lunar explorers have bigger goals and they are going to need an upgrade. NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program is working on new and improved tools for NASA's return to the Moon.


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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

NASA's Greatest Mission, and Volcanic Cloud Update

Source - Space Weather News for April 7, 2009:

NASA's GREATEST MISSION? The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has reached the final round of NASA's Mission Madness tournament where it is competing against upstart SPB, the Super Pressure Balloon, for the title "NASA's Greatest Mission." We endorse SOHO. Since the observatory was launched more than 13 years ago, it has revolutionized solar physics and the art of space weather forecasting--and the plucky spacecraft is still going strong. Vote now and help propel a spaceweather favorite to the championship:

VOLCANIC CLOUD UPDATE: Sulfur dioxide emissions from Alaska's Mt. Redoubt volcano are spreading. A doughnut-shaped cloud about 600 miles wide is now swirling through the stratosphere off the coast of California. Sulfur dioxide and associated aerosols have been known to produce sunsets of exceptional beauty. Check for the latest sulfur dioxide maps to see if you should be looking for volcanic colors this evening:

Monday, April 06, 2009

Are We Alone for 04/06/09 - Life of Brain

Are We Alone - Life of Brain
We should award frequent travel miles to your brain. After all, it’s evolved a long way from the days of guiding brachiation from tree-to-tree to become the three pounds of web-surfing, Sudoku-playing powerhouse it is today. But a suite of technologies may expand human brains further still.

From smart pills to nano-wires: discover the potential – and peril – of neuro-engineering to repair and enhance our cognitive function.

Also, how our brains got so big in the first place: a defense of the modern diet.

Guests You can listen to this and other episodes at, and be sure to check out Are We A Blog?, the companion blog to the radio show.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Mt. Redoubt Gives Alaskans a Taste of the Moon

Source - NASA Science News for April 3, 2009

By coating the countryside with gritty, abrasive, electrostatically-charged volcanic ash, Mt. Redoubt is giving Alaskans an unexpected taste of what it's like to live on the Moon.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Solar Minimum is a Big Event and 100 Hours of Astronomy

Source - Space Weather News for April 2, 2009:

SPOTLESS SUNS: Yesterday, NASA announced that the sun has plunged into the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century. Sunspots have all but vanished and consequently the sun has become very quiet. In 2008, the sun had no spots 73% of the time, a 95-year low. In 2009, sunspots are even more scarce, with the "spotless rate" jumping to 87%. We are currently experiencing a stretch of 25 continuous days uninterrupted by sunspots--and there's no end in sight.

This is a big event, but it is not unprecedented. Similarly deep solar minima were common in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, and each time the sun recovered with a fairly robust solar maximum. That's probably what will happen in the present case, although no one can say for sure. This is the first deep solar minimum of the Space Age, and the first one we have been able to observe using modern technology. Is it like others of the past? Or does this solar minimum have its own unique characteristics that we will discover for the first time as the cycle unfolds? These questions are at the cutting edge of solar physics.

You can monitor the progress of solar minimum with a new "Spotless Days Counter" on Instead of counting sunspots, we're counting no sunspots. Daily updated totals tell you how many spotless days there have been in a row, in this year, and in the entire solar cycle. Comparisons to historical benchmarks put it all in perspective. Visit for data.

100 HOURS OF ASTRONOMY: This week, astronomers are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's original telescopic exploration of the sky with "100 Hours of Astronomy," a cornerstone project of the International Year of Astronomy. Running from April 2 through April 5, many different public programs are planned worldwide. Is one of them near you? Visit the 100 Hours web site to find out: Note that the celebration ends on Sun Day, April 5th, a special date devoted to observations of the sun: .

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Deep Solar Minimum

Source - NASA Science News for April 1, 2009

How low can it go? The Sun is plunging into the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.